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The Pergamon: The prison of the body

The Pergamon: The prison of the body

In the summer of 2022, I gained insight into the British penal system when I was jailed for a month following direct action against Elbit—this is my prison diary (pt.3)

In the summer of 2022, I gained insight into the British penal system when I was remanded to Her Majesty’s Prison Eastwood Park. I was sent to jail for one month along with eight other activists following direct action in Bristol against Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest private arms company. During the month I spent in the penitentiary, I documented everything I saw, heard, felt, and thought as a form of resistance. This is my prison diary (pt.3)

May 23rd 2022

The sky is full of clouds, on this late morning in Eastwood Park, and only a deemed blue light penetrates them. All the girls in the unit are exhausted, too tired to even go take their medicines, and so am I. Slumberness has fallen over us all, and I don’t know why (apart from being deprived of my medicines). Everything moves slowly as if time itself is being dragged in the corridors. Maybe it’s because the girls know how long is the week ahead. I could barely get out of bed after I fell asleep early last night with a pounding headache. To cheer myself up, I laid on my back and sang Beatles songs: “Dig a Pony” and “Get Back”. “Get back to where you once belonged”, they sang. But where is that? Where have I once belonged? I cannot think of a place I belonged to more than my prison.

Every now and then, memories from Haifa are running through me like a stream; Memories of me trying to ride my sisters’ green Pejo bicycle or learning how to sew at my grandmother’s house. Maybe the embroidery kit that the missioners offered us has evoked these memories. I have to sweep these away from my mind. Living inside of the memories comes with the price of forgetting the possibilities the lie in the present. Instead of delving into the past, I must imagine what I want to do for the future.

I have lived a full and complete life, and if it is to end, then I am happy to have left this print, this mark in the endless sea of time, for which I am now imprisoned. If my life is to end today, I shall die happy knowing that I’ve done what I could for my brother and sisters that live under the apartheid regime and for the future victims that are going to be saved from the hands of the war machine.

We are forced into living, forced into this world. We must live until our last day and so must I. I have think about how I would like to spend my remaining days.

Last night I was gazing at the sunset sky and was trying to think of what I desire to live for. I would have loved to see Feds, Dali, Sophie, and more friends. Still, beyond that, I must formulate a new pattern of life in light of what I’ve learned in jail, where I found more empathy than on an average Berlin street. Here I’ve found intimacy and practiced mutual aid with women I did not know. There is more solidarity inside of these walls and among the prisoners than on the outside, where each is left to their own fate, in the capitalist pursuit of success, while running around, possessed by horror, in the endless chaise of making ends meet, paying debts, and hoard capital. It seems that now I know what I must keep away from when I’m released to the so-called free world and what I despise above all: Human alienation.

I picture the warm and lighted classroom where I used to teach Plato. Man is born into chains, into the prison of the body. From birth, we are thrown into the prison that is our corporal existence. When Socrates drank the hemlock, he was happy to finally escape his prison, the cave to which humanity is confined, and be transferred to the realm where the pure essence of truth lies. Socrates has left physical mode of being to be able to be at one with the abstract, the ideal forms – that is, to be freedom, to be truth, to be eternity, to be immortal in the endless sand of time.

If my bail is not going to be approved today, as I believe to be the case, I would find comfort in the fact that I wouldn’t have to return to society and the endless chase of material success – a futile competition between mutually alienated beings. I shall stay here, where I have space for thought and freedom of thought. It’s possible to lock me up only for a defined period of time. The authorities can even remove my head from my body if they desire (I’d never argue that they can’t), but they can’t take my inner joy away from me.

The mere sight of a cute dog, like those three dogs I’ve seen this morning passing by the prison, is enough to cheer me up. I was laughing so hard when I saw the dogs from my window. One of them was an old shepherd’s dog, pretty old looking, and the two others were black and white poodles. The white one was stretching his back all over the grass, lifting his legs up in the air. I remembered the dogs I’ve visited in Sardinia and how funny they were. One of them, named Chipi-Chipi, was especially small and joyful. He was friendly and used to expose his teeth so his lips would touch his nose whenever he greeted somebody “Ciao!”. He used to whine and sing a kind of a song as if he was saying “Where have you been, my darling? Why have you forsaken me?”. Whenever I’d need a good laugh, I shall recall these souls who were true friends to me.

It is late afternoon or an early evening hour and past tea time. I still did not receive details regarding the appeal and don’t know if I shall be released on bail. Even if the appeal is accepted, it’s possible that the documents won’t get sent in, and the release to be postponed, as happened to some of the comrades who got released later than others. Even if I’d have to stay here for an unknown period of time, I believe I’ve reached a state of almost total equanimity. I know that there is a good and happy life waiting for me outside, and in fact, my life here is also good and joyful. I shall remain unmoved and maintain my peace of mind no matter what decisions will be made – just like R was utterly untouched by the circumstances when he threw the words “the 15th” at me in the last time I saw him before we were taken to prison. I’m also unmoved by whatever decisions shall be made because I was lucky enough to have what many don’t: lovely vegan food and a duvet to keep me warm. My stay here is a continuation of the action and the way I carry myself is an extension of the action.

Darkness is about to fall. I am already convinced that the appeal was denied. So be it. If this is fate’s desire I shall accept it with love – I am where I should be. I am happy for the opportunity to shut down and dismantle the war machine, even if I must live in a cage for that. I am grateful for the opportunity that I was given not only to study Stoicism but also to practice true detachment. I don’t even bother to ask the guards if bail was approved or not. I’m in a state of such serenity that even if they sever my head from my body, I wouldn’t notice it. “Es lebe Frieheit!

I’m thinking of the women imprisoned here with me. The regime will always prefer to prosecute the weak and protect the strong, the truly criminal; to prosecute not those who commit crimes on a massive scale, but go after the underprivileged women who seek shelter from their realities. “We all know who the real criminals are”, Jacqueline wrote me. It’s clear as the sun.

This is the first time that I succeeded in devoting myself entirely to writing without struggling to find the words. Words simply come to me. Even the constant buzzing outside my cell helps me to concentrate. It would be funny if I could not concentrate without this endless Tinnitus sound after my release! Thanks to prison, I got disconnected from the internet, which was a major source of distraction. My mind has returned to me, and so prison has armed me with the most dangerous weapon of all – the instrument of clear consciousness.

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